For more than six months, persistent rumors have circulated in Orange County legal circles that Tony Rackauckas, the district attorney since 1999, would not seek a fourth term this year. Numerous individuals including Rackauckas employees, defense attorneys and at least two Superior Court judges have voiced private concerns that Rackauckas plans to announce his retirement on March 5, the pending deadline to declare candidacy for the powerful office, and then advocate Susan Kang Schroeder, his public affairs counsel, as his replacement.
To put it mildly, this scenario causes indigestion in certain circles. At the moment, the DA has no opposition and Schroeder, who enjoys a loyal friendship base, sparks both fear and contempt in her enemies. During the Haidl gang rape trial, one defense lawyer called her "satanic," complaining about her steadfast defense of the victim, a minor, in the case. Just last year, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens called her actions to assist reporters explore allegations of deputy misconduct in a brutality case "unprofessional." Wayne Quint, head of the local deputies' union, demanded that Schroeder be fired for, in his view, singling out deputy conduct for public scrutiny. The conduct in question was the DA's contention that deputies had lied under oath to protect a fellow deputy.
"If Susan Schroeder becomes the district attorney of Orange County, our criminal justice system will be in peril," said one veteran law enforcement official who asked not to be named in this story. "I'm serious."
Schroeder, whose husband Mike is the former chairman of the California Republican Party and a close personal Rackauckas friend, dismissed the worries.
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"I'm not running for DA, period," she said. "The rumors are absolutely, categorically not true. I'm working very hard to re-elect Tony. He's going to be DA until at least 2014. That's what I'm totally committed to. That's the truth."
Rackauckas tells me that the rumor might have been inspired by the wishful thinking of his political enemies.
"While I haven't been really focused on campaigning yet, I'm not retiring," the DA--a former homicide prosecutor and judge--told me. "I'm running again and I'm optimistic that I can accomplish some more good things, particularly related to collecting DNA, during the next four years."
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly